BY KES LUCHINI
On Saturday, April 29, the Los Alamos Reporter published a Letter to the Editor titled “Modern Climate Science is Junk Science,” written by Stephen McLin, a long-term member of the Los Alamos County Board of Public Utilities.
As a biologist who is very aware of the science involved in climate research, I was floored when I read this in our paper. Having grown up in Los Alamos, I am proud to see our county listen to the warnings of climate science and begin to shift towards a sustainable future. However, such progress can easily be eroded by those who think YouTube videos are a proper counterargument to peer-reviewed scientific publications.
Climate denial is dangerous. And no, I’m not talking about skepticism — being skeptical is a healthy part of the scientific process as any scientist will tell you. It is the denial of the existence of a globally disruptive phenomenon, backed by hundreds of peer-reviewed papers, that is dangerous. Particularly alarming is that this denial can be seen in our own Board of Public Utilities, from a man who said he has hope that the public will agree with his arguments and “delay the onset of carbon-neutral goals.”
My goal in this response is to debunk McLin’s main arguments against climate action. His arguments are flawed: there is a glaring lack of evidence to support his claims; he misquotes “authorities” without context; and, worse yet, he attempts to politicize the science behind climate change.
McLin’s primary argument against climate “junk science” cites the use of computer models to predict our planet’s future climate;
“These climatic predictions are based on computer simulations that have enormous shortcomings, including a glaring lack of agreement with long-term climatic observations.” He goes on to mention that Kevin Trenberth, former head of modeling at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, “implied” these climate models have significant uncertainties. McLin failed to mention, however, that Trenberth is an active contributor to IPCC reports and laments that his comments get taken out of context.
Unfortunately, without the citation of credible sources, I can only assume that McLin’s statements are not grounded in fact and, instead, rooted in an inherent distrust of computer models themselves.
It is important to note that climate models are not prophetic. First and foremost, a climate model is defined as the following, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC (not ICPP):
“Climate models are mathematical representations of the climate system, expressed as computer codes and run on powerful computers. One source of confidence in models comes from the fact that model fundamentals are based on established physical laws, such as conservation of mass, energy and momentum, along with a wealth of observations . . . A second source of confidence comes from the ability of models to simulate important aspects of the current climate . . . A third source of confidence comes from the ability of models to reproduce features of past climates and climate changes.”
To accurately model a system as complex as Planet Earth, scientists must account for every factor that affects the system as a whole, from the land surface to the oceans to the atmosphere. As a result, there are two primary limitations to the accuracy of our current climate models: computing power and, most significantly, the availability of detailed observations of known physical processes. For example, a recent paper published in Nature Geosciences discovered a previously unknown river underneath Antarctic ice sheets that transports a massive amount of water under high pressure — the flow rate of which is three times that of the river Thames in London (C.F. Dow, 2022). With new peer-reviewed studies such as this one, models can take this newfound information and adjust their predictions to more accurately reflect climatic changes.
In other words, climate models’ biggest limitations are alleviated by further research.
The politicization of climate change becomes evident in McLin’s closing arguments. He says these models are “used to justify enormous funding increases in government-sponsored climate research,” despite the fact that such research will reduce the uncertainty that serves as a foundation for his denial.
Sadly, by politicizing this scientific topic, I must now step away from evidence-based counterarguments and instead appeal to the human side of politics.
McLin, like many other climate change deniers, clearly believes that the concept of a climate crisis is a political one, which serves to funnel millions of taxpayer dollars into programs chosen by the government. In his eyes, such programs would lead to widespread economic ruin. The politically inflammatory Green New Deal is referenced by McLin for this very reason.
Although I can sympathize with his panic over unfettered government spending, I must make myself very clear.
When one party refuses to accept that a problem exists, then it is left to the other party to decide what solutions are brought to the table.
The Green New Deal is far from perfect. Money cannot simply be thrown at a problem until it goes away, as the Democratic party is fond of doing. We need market-based solutions to the climate crisis. However, by removing themselves from this conversation, the Republican party has forfeited their opportunity to suggest such solutions.
As a result, this leaves myself and the majority of Americans who believe in climate change to vote between expensive, mediocre actions or no action at all.
I wish, instead, we could choose between bipartisan solutions, working together to find the most economically viable, socially conscious solutions to this global problem.
Alas, this is the danger of climate denial. Progress and American ingenuity have no choice but to wait until these deniers are no longer in power.